Monday, May 28, 2007

From the Santa Barbara Independent...

Farewell But Not Goodbye
Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Josef Woodard

FREEDOM HITS THE ROAD: Trying to wrap your mouth, let alone your brain, around the synthetic word pfMENTUM is a challenge. In some way, it belongs to the catalog of absurd utterances, like the “pshit” of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, suitable for meaning whatever you care to bring to it. What better handle to give a record label and general cultural worldview such as those maintained by Jeff Kaiser?

Alas, although the iconoclastic Venturan (and “angry vegan”? That’s the name of pfMENTUM’s sister label) has become a cottage industry off to the left of normal in the extended neighborhood since the early ’90s, we may not have Kaiser to kick around anymore. The enterprising trumpeter/composer/computer musician/record label mini-mogul — and general avant-impresario— Kaiser is moving up and moving down south, to take a position at the noted experimental music safe house of UCSD. To pay respects and also get a hefty dose of great new music, check out his Farewell, Ventura! concert this Saturday night at Ventura City Hall. On the bill are the Jeff Kaiser Quintet, which he calls “my take on a free jazz rock band,” and his Ockodektet, or “my take on a BIG band.”

As a label, pfMENTUM has grown by leaps, bounds, and sidesteps in recent years, as Kaiser has taken on a wide range of adventurers, mostly from the Southern California area. Santa Barbara’s own gifted musical mayhem manager Jim Connolly has just released his third project on the label, by his rangy Gove County String Quartet (which performed recently at Center Stage, in the Iridian Arts series). To get the skinny on Kaiser, read up on him in a generous feature in the new issue of Cadence magazine. This extended town’s gonna seem mighty quiet and boring without Kaiser. Hopefully, he’ll make his way back up now and again and figuratively trash the joint a bit.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Interview in the local paper...

After a farewell show Saturday, Ventura's new-music wizard is leaving for San Diego

By Karen Lindell
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Ventura County Star

"The stranger's nose was no more heard of" is an obscure quotation from Laurence Sterne's "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman," an 18th-century comedic novel.

"Triskaidekaphobic" is the term for someone afraid of the number 13.

The connection between the two is one Ventura musician.

"The stranger's nose was no more heard of" is also the title of one of the 13 tracks/movements/parts of Ventura composer Jeff Kaiser's "13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic," a jazzy musical piece that lasts one hour, 13 minutes and 13 seconds, featuring woodwinds, guitars, percussion, theremin, electronics and various odd noises.

It should be apparent by now that Kaiser, also a trumpet player and music teacher, does not follow in the classical steps of Mozart or even an iconoclast like Stravinsky.

Kaiser, 45, composes and performs "new music," also described as creative, experimental or avant-garde music. He founded Ventura's annual New Music Festival in 1990, plays in numerous ensembles and owns the avant-garde pfMENTUM record label and its subsidiary, Angry Vegan Records.

But now, the new-music man has a new venture planned. Kaiser is leaving Ventura to earn a Ph.D. in music at UC San Diego, specifically a program in "critical studies and experimental practices." His goal is to be a university professor.

Along with two of his ensembles, the Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet and Quintet, he'll perform a "Farewell, Ventura" concert Saturday night at Ventura City Hall. The Ockodektet, a mix of 20 or so musicians, will play "13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic."

Adventures in music

Kaiser, who's received numerous grants and awards and teaches workshops at schools locally and around the country, has a bachelor's degree in music composition from Westmont College and a master's degree in choral and orchestral conducting from Azusa Pacific University.

He originally planned to be a church choir director. When he was exposed to new music, "At first I thought it was absurd, and a bunch of B.S.," he said. "But I started listening, and letting go of expectations. Then I fell in love with it."

What did he hear differently when listening more closely? "I think I started feeling like listening was an adventure," he said. "I was exploring new lands. It inspired me to be creative. It's about stimulating thought."

Kaiser said his departure to San Diego marks two milestones: the 20-year anniversary of producing new-music events in Ventura (the first was a concert of electronic music with a local poet at a Ventura church); and the 10th anniversary of pfMENTUM.

He's always wanted to be a professor, and the timing finally seemed right. For the past few years Kaiser has been filling in as a substitute instructor at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia for musician friends when they have concert gigs or tours.

After teaching a new-music ensemble class for an entire semester, "I realized I wanted to be working with those concepts all the time," he said. "I'm looking forward to working at the university level. It was real mind-opening."

San Diego was his first choice for graduate school, Kaiser said, because the school's music department "has a rich history of focusing on music that's being created now."

His chosen field, "critical studies and experimental practices," he said, explores "music that falls between the cracks that combines elements of contemporary, jazz and world music and synthesizes it into personal form." The program is also unique, he said, because it focuses on both performance and scholarship.

Kaiser said he'll probably finish the program in three years, write his dissertation, then go wherever in the country he can find a job as a professor of new music.

He plans to continue working on the Ventura New Music Festival from afar, while musician Robert Sterling, who recently received an Emerging Artist Fellowship from the city of Ventura, will take over as the "nuts and bolts director."

'Free-for-all electronics'

Kaiser's not taking a hiatus from pfMENTUM, either, although he's lining up others to help him keep the record label going.

For the uninitiated, listening to audio excerpts of albums available from pfMENTUM's Web site,, can be a jarring sonic experience.

For example, the recent pfMENTUM release "Into the Maelstrom," by a trio called The Transhumans, is described as "merging free-jazz drumming with free-for-all electronics."

Percussionist Brad Dutz's "When Manatees Attack," which includes a song called "Insulated Potato Wedges," features an oboist, cellist and bass clarinetist accompanying Dutz on marimba, vibes, xylophone, congas, bongos, bones, cajon, riq, doumbec, darabuka "and other percussion products he hit when the computer was on."

Kaiser has created his own computer software for "processing" music, and often performs with his laptop on stage. "I play my trumpet into it, chop it up and do all sorts of odd things to it," he said.

Saturday's concert, however, will be an all-acoustic affair. The quintet, which Kaiser describes as a "crazy rock jazz band," will play a short set, followed by the Ockodektet.

Try it you might like it

In Ventura, Kaiser said, he's found "a surprisingly appreciative audience. The city itself has been wonderfully supportive, giving us access to City Hall to do concerts."

He does have naysayers, however. "A lot of people think I'm just odd," he said, laughing. "They don't see the bigger context of what I'm doing."

Kaiser's hoping for a more positive response at this weekend's City Hall concert than what he encountered his first time there.

At Ventura's inaugural ArtWalk in the 1990s, Kaiser said, he played at City Hall with his trio Maha Cuisinarte ("I guess it means 'the great blender,' he said of the group's name).

"There were hundreds of people," he said. "We emptied that place so quickly. Only about half the audience stayed. But those who stayed really liked it."


Trumpet player Jeff Kaiser, who's been on top of Ventura County's avant-garde music scene for more than 20 years, will soon steer his RV south to graduate school in search of a Ph.D. But first he'll say goodbye to Ventura with a concert on Saturday at City Hall.
Jeff Kaiser

Who: Composer, trumpet player, teacher and Ventura's resident new-music guru; founder of the Ventura New Music Festival.

Record label: Owns pfMENTUM records and its subsidiary, Angry Vegan Records (Kaiser said the name is a joke; he is a vegan, but a happy one ).

Performing credits: Include stints with Headless Household, Los Angeles Trumpet Quartet, Michael Vlatkovich Brass Trio and Motor Totemist Guild; also played music for the HBO series "Deadwood."

Grad school: Already has a master's degree in choral and orchestral conducting from Azusa Pacifica University; is enrolling in UC San Diego's Ph.D. music program.

Albums: Kaiser's latest release is "Zugzwang," with Tom McNalley. critics described it as "a creative affair where noise plays a major role. Kaiser is on fire with his squealing horn."

Why he drives an RV: "It's great to use to get away," Kaiser said. And if San Diego housing prices are anything like Ventura's, it will be home when he moves down south.

Kirk Silsbee Interview

The last days of Ventura’s secret mayor
Local avant-garde impresario Jeff Kaiser bids the county adieu


Though no one is making much of it, an era is coming to an end.

For the past 20 years, Jeff Kaiser — trumpeter, composer, electronic voyager, record label owner and impresario — has almost single-handedly given Ventura a sizeable new-music profile. And when he presents his Ockodektet at Ventura City Hall on May 26, it will signal his farewell to the city.

“I’m entering a doctoral program at UC San Diego in the fall,” Kaiser says, speaking from the Experimental Music Festival in Boise, Idaho. “John Fumo, the trumpeter, went on tour and I took over his classes at Cal Arts for a month. And I discovered I really love teaching at a university level. I’m 45, and it’s time to get my higher degree.”

Kaiser has made Ventura a viable link in the San Francisco-to-Santa Cruz-to-Santa Barbara-to-Los Angeles itinerary of experimental, avant-garde and left-of-center musicians of almost every shade. One such performer is poet Dorothea Grossman. Grossman works in tandem with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, who improvises musical epigrams while Grossman reads her humorous and heartfelt poems. It is a highly specialized format and a hard sell to bookers. Yet Kaiser has not only presented the duo live, but released their recordings on his pfMENTUM label.

“Everything Jeff does is musical,” Grossman says. “Nobody works harder. He’s not happy unless he is overworked — with students, running the label, booking concerts and preparing music. He has put Ventura on the map as far as new music is concerned.”

“He has the ability to realize music in a very short amount of time — to compose it, rehearse it and present it — and that’s quite difficult to do,” Vlatkovich adds. “It’s particularly hard with a large group, and to have control over the group. But Jeff has absolute trust in the people he assembles. It’s a given that they can play, but there are other issues to consider: Will they like each other? Will they pull together as a unit? Did one of them get a parking ticket that day? The dynamics can be so difficult. Jeff knows how to pick people and make their weaknesses disappear and bring out their strengths. It’s truly fascinating.”

Percussionist Brad Dutz, who has recorded 10 albums for pfMENTUM, is continually intrigued by Kaiser’s compositions. “His writing features a lot of colors, and he uses graphic notation in color. That makes all the musicians think more about what they’re going to play. Plus, he’s got all this knowledge about electronics, which he feeds through the trumpet: processing, digital delays, reverb pedals.”

“Jeff’s not afraid of that technical world,” says flute virtuoso Emily Hay. “He combines the composition and programming aspects of his music with the technical ability. He’s expanded his sound palette and I admire that.” Hay is also grateful for the recording opportunities Kaiser has provided. “His concept was to create a communal collaboration among Southern California musicians so their music can be heard. With pfMENTUM, all of this music is in one place, and with it, we have a collaborative presence. We know people are listening from the e-mails and responses we get. It’s reached as far away as Siberia and Macedonia.”

Kaiser will be working in town — mostly with students — for a few months, “courtesy of the I.R.S.,” he jokes.

“I have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving,” Kaiser admits. “I walk down the street and I see people I know everywhere. I produced my first concert here 20 years ago. Ventura has allowed me to grow organically in a way that I couldn’t in New York or L.A. It’s allowed me opportunities to develop as an individual, without the circle of influence. My degree will be in Critical Studies and Experimental Practices. Ventura allowed me to think like that.”

What animates Kaiser, the composer-player? “I get an idea stuck in my head,” he enthuses, “and I feel compelled to do it. I just want to be able to hear my ideas. I want to create these other worlds that I hear. I think that the world of the psyche is every bit as compelling as the physical world.”

“Michael and I have a running joke,” Grossman says. “We say that Jeff Kaiser is actually the secret mayor of Ventura. Otherwise, how would he be able to do all the things he’s accomplished?”

Monday, May 21, 2007

For a limited time only!

Maxwell Gualtieri and Louis Lopez volunteered to help advertise my farewell gig...this was a bit unexpected...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Farewell Ventura Gig

Some friends are helping me with a send-off gig at Ventura City Hall, May 26...
(Private music students please note: my last teaching day is June 29)

For those of you that don't know, I'm leaving to pursue a PhD in music (Critical Studies and Experimental Practices) at UCSD. You can read more here.

Concert Info:

Saturday May 26, 2007, 8pm

Jeff Kaiser: Farewell, Ventura!

Ventura City Hall
501 Poli Street
Ventura, CA 93001
(downtown Ventura, where California Street runs into Poli)
Admission, $10

Jeff Kaiser Quintet

Brad Dutz, drum set; Jim Connolly, electric bass; Tom McNalley, electric guitar
Andrew Pask, woodwinds; Jeff Kaiser, trumpet and compositions

The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet
(performing "13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic")

Basses: Jim Connolly, Hal Onserud
Brass: Tpts: Kris Tiner, Dan Clucas, Brad Henkel
Bones: Michael Vlatkovich, George McMullen; Tuba: William Roper
Woodwinds: Vinny Golia, Andrew Pask, Jason Robinson, Nathaniel Morgan, Emily Hay, Lynn Johnston
Electric Guitar: G.E. Stinson; Organ: Wayne Peet
Percussion: Richie West, Brad Dutz
Conductor/compositions: Jeff Kaiser

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

More Dangerous Curve and The Choir Boys

Tim Quinn of Dangerous Curve just sent these pics over. I just wanted to mention what a great venue this is, and how gracious and pleasant the hosts, Tim and Kathryn are.

The Choir Boys in action. I'm fiddling with my computer as I just got it back a few days ago from getting a new hard drive (after three years of extreme use, it started to give up the ghost). When I got it back, my preferences were changed, the screen saver went up in the middle of the gig...

Ah, finally, I can play, no screen saver...

Staring at the video, Tusalava...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Dangerous Curve and The Choir Boys...

The Choir Boys (Andrew Pask and myself) performed at Dangerous Curve in Los Angeles. Another enjoyable performance (our third) to the Len Lye film "Tusalava."

Afterwards, we enjoyed the traditional Choir Boys cigar, an Ashton Cabinet Selection #3...a truly wonderful smoke.

Andrew, post-smoke...

Kathryn and Tim, the proprietors of Dangerous Curve allowed me to "curate" the afternoon. So I brought in my friends from San Diego, Cosmologic (L-R): Jason Robinson, Nate Hubbard, Scott Walton, and Michael Dessen. They provided a great set of energetic and creative tunes...

Ending up with the ever-great, Vinny Golia doing 4+1, four saxes and one clarinet. Lance, Blake and Gavin joined Vinny on saxophones and Brian Walsh held his own on clarinets.

L-R: Vinny, Brian, Gavin, Blake, Lance

Vinny and Brian

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Boise Stolen Cigar Brigade

We had our annual post Boise Experimental Music Festival (BEMF2) gathering Saturday night after the last set. This group, duly named after the appalling theft of one of my cigars last year, featured four of the original members. (Melissa, Rick, Lucio, myself.) Slyly, I kept them from stealing my cigar by bringing decoys, Arturo Fuente Exquistos.

Photo courtesy of our bartender using Gregory Taylor's camera

From Left to right:
Gregory Taylor, Melissa Wilson, Lucio Menegon, Rob Price, Justin Cassidy, Patrick Rodriguez, David Grollman, Bob Sterling, Jeff Kaiser, Rick Walker